All posts by Bobby Hellard

New Chrome OS update makes it easier to check for hardware faults


Bobby Hellard

22 Apr, 2021

Google has released a diagnostic app for Chrome OS that lets users initiate a scan for hardware faults within a Chromebook.

The app is part of a recent update to Chrome OS that also aims to reduce the number of tabs you open by giving the launcher more instant capabilities.

The diagnostic app will be accessible from the launcher so users can instantly scan various parts of their device for issues. This can be used on their Chromebook’s CPU, memory, and battery and give quick insights on what might be slowing their device down.

The Chromebook launcher, which is where users can normally find apps, local files, or Google search, will now also include a calculator, weather updates, stock prices, and even quick word definitions in an attempt to create a single source for all of a Chromebook user’s needs.

For example, if the battery is draining faster than one would normally expect, the app can run a ‘discharge test’ to see if the hardware is the cause of the problem. The app will also offer up links to relevant support articles and save the test results in a session log that can be shared with customer support teams if the problem is severe enough. There will also be a list of standard troubleshooting advice for more minor faults.

In the coming weeks, Chrome OS will also receive the ‘Live Captions‘ feature that was recently added to the Chrome browser. These are automatic, real-time captions for any media that has audio, and will be an option on “most” Chrome OS devices inside the Accessibility menu.

The updates come as Chromebook sales continue to increase, according to recent Gartner research, which suggests that shipments reached “triple figures” for the first quarter of 2021. This follows on from strong sales in Q4 of 2020, where Canalys suggested demand was “through the roof“.

Google Meet updates aim to combat meeting fatigue


Bobby Hellard

21 Apr, 2021

Google has unveiled a host of new functions for the web version of its video conferencing platform Google Meet.

The updates mainly focus on hosts with new options that aim to make presentations more engaging, but there are also AI-based video quality enhancements that aim to make participants feeds clearer.

These updates are a refresh for both the service and its users, with Google looking to reduce “meeting fatigue“. Users can choose to have their video feed in a standard tile in the grid or as a floating picture, which can be moved and resized or even minimised completely. Google says it’s also planning that will enable users to turn off the self-feed across all Google Meet calls.

“The new Meet enhancements are largely inspired by customer and user feedback,” the tech giant said in a blog post. “Beginning next month, desktop and laptop users will see a new, richer user interface with an array of easy-to-access features that make meetings more productive and inclusive.”
 
Meet’s new user interface, which will be available in May, will include easy-to-access features for more productive and inclusive meetings. Presenters will be able to pin and unpin content midway through a presentation and make the content tile the same size as participant tiles. While they will still see the full presentation, the presenter will have a better view of reactions. 

Controls are also getting a rejig, with an update to the bottom navigation bar. Dial-in codes, attachments, call lists, chat and other functions will all sit along the bottom for ease of access, with Google also aiming to increase screen space for more participants. 

Participants might also look a little better thanks to some automated light adjustments. This feature, due to arrive on Meet in the coming weeks, will detect users that appear underexposed and enhance the brightness for them. The same software will also zoom in if a participant needs it and position them squarely in front of the camera.

As with seemingly all video conferencing platform updates, Google will be adding more fun backgrounds. There will be three: a classroom, a party and a forest, set to be released in the coming week. 

Adobe co-founder Charles Geschke dies aged 81


Bobby Hellard

19 Apr, 2021

Charles “Chuck” Geschke, the co-founder of Adobe and the co-creator of the portable document format (PDF), has died at the age of 81. 
 
Together with John Warnock, Geschke set up Adobe in 1982 and helped to develop many software innovations that are still in use today, almost 40 years later. 

The current CEO of Adobe, Shantanu Narayen, sent an email to employees announcing Geschke’s passing. 

“It is with profound sadness that I share that our beloved co-founder Dr Chuck Geschke, has passed away at the age of 81, leaving an indelible mark on our company and the world,” Narayen wrote. “This is a huge loss for the entire Adobe community and the technology industry, for whom he has been a guide and hero for decades.”

Imaging Science Laboratory

Geschke was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1939 and enjoyed a successful career in maths and technology long before co-founding Adobe. He taught mathematics at John Carroll University in the 1960s before completing a PhD in computer science at Carnegie Mellon University in 1972. 

After his studies, Geschke began working at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Centre (PARC), building a mainframe computer and developing programming tools for the Xerox Star workstation. In 1978, he started the Imaging Sciences Laboratory at PARC and researched graphics, optics and image processing. While working at the labs he hired a computer scientist called John Warnock with whom he formed a strong working partnership.

Warnock and Geschke developed interpress – a paged description language (PDL) – but were unable to convince Xerox management of its commercial value. The two men left to form their own company, with PDL eventually forming the basis of PostScritpt. 

Adobe Creek

Like a number of today’s biggest tech firms, Adobe was founded in a garage – John Warnock’s, to be precise – but the startup was originally called “Adobe Creek”. PostScript was developed on Apple computers and resulted in one of the first desktop publishing systems – users could see their documents on screen, exactly as they would appear in print. This was known as WYSIWYG, an acronym for What You See Is What You Get, and helped to create a whole new industry within printing and has led to one of the most popular software suites of all time. 

Geschke was Adobe’s COO from 1986 to 1994 but retired in 2000. In 1992 he was kidnapped at gunpoint and held captive for four days by two men who tried to demand ransom from his wife, Nancy “Nan” Geschke. He was found, unharmed, and the two men were sentenced to life terms in state prison. 

In 2009, Geschke was awarded the National Medal of Technology by Barack Obama, but despite this and his contribution to the modern world, Geschke remained a very grounded man. 

“He was really a humble, humble man – I can say that, as his wife,” Nan Geschke told Mercury News. “He was very proud of his success, of course, but he was very circumspect about how much he had to do with that.”

Adobe co-founder Charles Geschke dies aged 81


Bobby Hellard

19 Apr, 2021

Charles “Chuck” Geschke, the co-founder of Adobe and the co-creator of the portable document format (PDF), has died at the age of 81. 
 
Together with John Warnock, Geschke set up Adobe in 1982 and helped to develop many software innovations that are still in use today, almost 40 years later. 

The current CEO of Adobe, Shantanu Narayen, sent an email to employees announcing Geschke’s passing. 

“It is with profound sadness that I share that our beloved co-founder Dr Chuck Geschke, has passed away at the age of 81, leaving an indelible mark on our company and the world,” Narayen wrote. “This is a huge loss for the entire Adobe community and the technology industry, for whom he has been a guide and hero for decades.”

Imaging Science Laboratory

Geschke was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1939 and enjoyed a successful career in maths and technology long before co-founding Adobe. He taught mathematics at John Carroll University in the 1960s before completing a PhD in computer science at Carnegie Mellon University in 1972. 

After his studies, Geschke began working at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Centre (PARC), building a mainframe computer and developing programming tools for the Xerox Star workstation. In 1978, he started the Imaging Sciences Laboratory at PARC and researched graphics, optics and image processing. While working at the labs he hired a computer scientist called John Warnock with whom he formed a strong working partnership.

Warnock and Geschke developed interpress – a paged description language (PDL) – but were unable to convince Xerox management of its commercial value. The two men left to form their own company, with PDL eventually forming the basis of PostScritpt. 

Adobe Creek

Like a number of today’s biggest tech firms, Adobe was founded in a garage – John Warnock’s, to be precise – but the startup was originally called “Adobe Creek”. PostScript was developed on Apple computers and resulted in one of the first desktop publishing systems – users could see their documents on screen, exactly as they would appear in print. This was known as WYSIWYG, an acronym for What You See Is What You Get, and helped to create a whole new industry within printing and has led to one of the most popular software suites of all time. 

Geschke was Adobe’s COO from 1986 to 1994 but retired in 2000. In 1992 he was kidnapped at gunpoint and held captive for four days by two men who tried to demand ransom from his wife, Nancy “Nan” Geschke. He was found, unharmed, and the two men were sentenced to life terms in state prison. 

In 2009, Geschke was awarded the National Medal of Technology by Barack Obama, but despite this and his contribution to the modern world, Geschke remained a very grounded man. 

“He was really a humble, humble man – I can say that, as his wife,” Nan Geschke told Mercury News. “He was very proud of his success, of course, but he was very circumspect about how much he had to do with that.”

IBM returns to growth after four quarters of decline


Bobby Hellard

20 Apr, 2021

IBM’s first-quarter earnings for 2021 beat analyst expectations with modest revenue growth of 0.9% ending four consecutive quarters of decline.

The company’s revenue for the first three months of the year came in at $17.73 billion, still some way off the $21.8 billion it recorded in Q1 of 2020 just before the pandemic spread to Europe and the US. 

For the first three months of 2021, IBM’s Global Technology Services – the unit that handles managed services and outsourcing – brought in revenues of $6.37 billion. Its Cloud and Cognitive Software Division, which includes Red Hat, was up 4% with revenues $5.44 billion, with Red Hat on its own reporting impressive growth of 17%.

IBM’s Global Business Services, which includes consulting, contributed $4.23 billion in revenue, a 2% increase year-on-year. System sales, such as mainframe computers, was also up 4% with revenue coming in at $1.43 billion. 

“Strong performance this quarter in cloud, driven by increasing client adoption of our hybrid cloud platform, and growth in software and consulting enabled us to get off to a solid start for the year,” said IBM CEO Arvind Krishna. 

“While we have more work to do, we are confident we can achieve full-year revenue growth and meet our adjusted free cash flow target in 2021.”

Krishna has now completed a full year at the helm of IBM and this is the company’s best quarter under his leadership. While a number of other cloud firms have seen revenues increase throughout the pandemic, IBM turned out to be one of the few that saw consecutive declines. In the fourth quarter of 2020, its revenues dropped 6%, its sharpest fall for five years. 

IBM is currently undergoing a major shift by splitting its business in two; IBM is transitioning into a full cloud firm and its infrastructure segments will fall under a new company called Kyndryl. With more and more companies turning to the cloud or accelerating digital transformation plans, IBM hopes its two units will be better placed to capitalise. 

Ocado invests £10m into autonomous vehicle startup Oxbotica


Bobby Hellard

16 Apr, 2021

Ocado has invested £10 million into Oxford-based self-driving car startup Oxbotica that includes a partnership to develop autonomous vehicles for curbside deliveries.

The investment came as part of a funding round for Oxbotica and forms the basis of a multi-year collaboration that ultimately aims to reduce costs for Ocado.

The deal is an extension of an existing partnership between the two companies and will focus specifically on developing new hardware and software interfaces for autonomous vehicles that will be used in and around Ocado’s Customer Fulfilment Centre (CFC). This includes a range of logistical drones for use across its factories and loading areas.

Both firms are also interested in “last mile” delivery drones that take goods from vans to front doors.

Data sharing agreements have also been signed as part of the deal, which includes the fitting of “data capture capabilities” inside Ocado delivery vans that will be used by Oxbotica to train and test its technologies. The idea is that the data will highlight which Oxbotica technologies will suit Ocado’s needs.

“We are excited about the opportunity to work with Oxbotica to develop a wide range of autonomous solutions that truly have the potential to transform both our and our partners CFC and service delivery operations, while also giving all end customers the widest range of options and flexibility,” Ocado’s chief of advanced technology, Alex Harvey said.

The partnership could also lead to new jobs with Ocado, which is creating new engineering teams to work specifically with Oxbotica. While no figures have been provided, we do know these roles will be within Ocado’s Advanced Technology division, which is already separate from the team that develops the Ocado Smart Platform.

Logistical costs make up a large part of Ocado’s overall expenditure, the firm said. Approximately 1.5% of sales in the UK are lost due to the cost of moving finished orders from the fulfilment centre to delivery vans, while 10% of sales are lost when delivering goods from the van to the door. Labour also represents 50% of these costs, according to Ocado.

The grocery firm expects to see the first prototypes of some early use cases for autonomous vehicles within two years.

Salesforce will reopen its offices in May


Bobby Hellard

14 Apr, 2021

Salesforce will begin welcoming employees back into its US offices, starting with vaccinated members of staff in the middle of May. 

The tech giant’s San Francisco headquarters, Salesforce Tower, along with its Palo Alto and Irvine offices will allow cohorts of 100 people or fewer, according to The San Francisco Chronicle.   

The tech firm, which is one of the city’s largest private employers, is opting for proof of vaccination to allow workers back in. All employees who do return will volunteer to do so as Salesforce has begun to implement a hybrid strategy that enables staff to work from home on a permanent basis.

The company is said to be eliminating designated desks and expanding ‘collaboration’ spaces to aline with its future workforce plans. 

“It’s really a catalyst to create the best employee experience,” Brent Hyder, Salesforce’s chief people officer, told The Chronicle. “We have an opportunity to create an even better workplace for everyone.”

The cloud company appears to be the first major firm in San Francisco’s Bay Area to opt for proof of vaccination. Firms like Facebook and Google are also welcoming employees back into offices, but don’t require any kind of vaccination ID. 

It highlights the degree to which Salesforce has fully embraced its hybrid work strategy, whereas the likes of Google has seemed more cautious.

Despite previously warning that a hybrid model could affect its culture and finances, Google has made changes to its remote working policies. The firm recently said employees can work from home overseas for more than 14 days a year – pending an application to do so. The company’s current work from arrangements is in place until 1 September, where it will then allow people to voluntarily return to the office.

Before the pandemic, around 18% of Salesforce employees were fully remote. Hyder expects that number to eventually sit at around 20% as most will choose a mix of home and in office. Although productivity was higher, he added that employees were “growing weary” because they “want to see each other”.

Union urges ministers to give remote workers a ‘right to disconnect’


Bobby Hellard

13 Apr, 2021

UK ministers are being urged to include a ‘right to disconnect’ policy in the forthcoming Employment Bill to address the boundaries between work and home life.

Tech workers union Prospect wants a legal requirement put in place to force companies to discuss when they can contact their employees while working from home

Around two-thirds of UK workers want to see a ‘right to disconnect’ policy put in place, according to a Prospect poll commissioned by Opinium. The organisations interviewed 4,005 UK nationals over the first week of April and found that 66% would support the policy if it was brought in. This was a strong stance across all age groups and political affiliations, according to Prospect, with 53% of Conservative voters in favour. 

Including a right to disconnect in the Employment Bill would a big step in redefining blurred boundaries and would show that the government is serious about tackling the “dark side” of remote working, according to Prospect’s research director Andrew Pakes. 

“People’s experience of working from home during the pandemic has varied wildly depending on their jobs, their home circumstances, and crucially the behaviour of their employers,” Pakes said.  

“It is clear that for millions of us, working from home has felt more like sleeping in the office, with remote technology meaning it is harder to fully switch off, contributing to poor mental health. Remote working is here to stay, but it can be much better than it has been in recent months.”  

Mental health problems featured in the survey with 35% of participants suggesting their ‘work-related mental health’ had gotten worse during the pandemic. 42% said it was partly due to the inability to switch off from the jobs with 30% stating that they were working more unpaid hours than before the pandemic – 18% suggesting this was at least four hours of additional work.

A number of other countries, such as France and Ireland, have some form of the right to disconnect enshrined in law which is also supported by the European Parliament. 

Microsoft in ‘advanced talks’ to buy AI firm Nuance Communications


Bobby Hellard

12 Apr, 2021

Microsoft is reportedly set to acquire artificial intelligence (AI) speech recognition firm Nuance Communications for an estimated $16 billion (£11.6 billion)

The two companies are currently in “advanced talks”, according to Bloomberg sources, and Nuance could be valued at around $56 per share if current negotiations hold.

Microsoft is yet to comment on the matter but reports suggest that an official announcement will be made sometime this week, possibly late on Monday. 

Nuance is an American AI firm based just outside of Boston that sells audio recognition and transcription tools. The company was founded in 1992, has over 7,000 employees and reported $346 million in fourth-quarter revenues. It’s thought that Microsoft is attempting to expand via acquisitions, with an interest in Nuance’s work in healthcare, customer services and voicemail. 

Microsoft and Nuance already have a professional relationship, collaborating on technologies that allow doctors to capture voice conversations and enter them into electronic medical records. AI and voice software is an area Microsoft has extensive expertise in already, with developer tools to enable transcription and functions to incorporate speech recognition into its products. Both Teams and the Bing search engine have some forms of speech recognition and audio transcription, for example.

The tech giant is seemingly in takeover mode with a $7.5 billion deal for video game maker Zenimax completed last month and wide reports that it recently considered buying social media app TikTok. The firm was also said to be chasing an acquisition of gaming chat app Discord, for around $10 billion. 

Both Discord and TikTok deals were thought to be more about the large volumes of users data that Microsoft would have access to if the acquisitions were successful. If the details around Nuance are correct, it would be Microsoft’s biggest acquisition since buying LinkedIn in 2016. The firm used data from the recruitment site to power other functions on platforms like Outlook and Teams. 

UK gov secures vendors for £1.5bn software services deal


Bobby Hellard

8 Apr, 2021

The UK government has awarded contracts to 25 tech firms as part of a deal to design and implement software services across the public sector, estimated to be worth up to £1.5 billion.

The framework, established by the Crown Commercial Service (CCS), a procurement body that works for the Cabinet Office, has ordered the creation of software services that will be eventually used by central government departments and other public sector bodies, such as local authorities and UK emergency services.

A handful of major software and services vendors are part of the framework deal, including Deloitte, Hitachi, Fujitsu, HCL, and Accenture, alongside some smaller SMEs.

The government wants the services to cover strategy, architecture, design, software selection, impact assessment, implementation, integration services, data migration, change management, training, onboarding and business process automation.

The deal has been valued at £1.5 billion, however, and the CCS has said it “cannot guarantee any business through the framework agreement”, which will be open for 30 months with an option to extend for a further 18 if needed.

It comes during a period of digital transformation for central and local government, with plans to move from on-premise and cloud-hosted systems to software as a service-based applications. It also follows reports that surfaced in February of a growing divide within the Conservative Party over contracts given to Amazon Web Services. Around £75 million worth of contracts were said to have been awarded to the tech giant last year, almost double the amount the next biggest cloud provider received. This has allegedly caused concerns within the government that it is too dependent on one service.

A full list of the companies associated with the deal can be found here.